Although Motoko Ishii deserves legendary status for her lighting design artistry, her noteworthy accomplishments reach beyond the scope of her lighting projects. Pioneering businesswoman, savvy marketer, educator, public speaker and author are also shining facets in the jeweled crown of Ishii's extraordinary career.
The bridges and outdoor plazas, hotels and temples, corporate environments and fantasy light shows on her roster of completed projects reveal Ishii's insatiable appetite for diversity. A hallmark of her technique is the seamless integration of complex and often innovative technology with a resulting visual aesthetic that succeeds in adding personality and dimensionality to the original structures.
Ishii was one of the first designers to extensively use colored light in outdoor applications. Her designs are often imbued with a deepening layer of symbolic meaning that provides a rationale for the lighting design and connects landmark structures intimately with the surrounding environments.
Though a pioneer of lighting design in Japan, Ishii's perspective is international. After graduating from the Tokyo University of Fine Arts in 1962, she left her native country to work in the Design Section of light fixture company Oy Stockman-Orno Ab in Helsinki, Finland and later, with Firma Licht im Raum, a lighting design firm in Dusseldorf, Germany.
In 1968, she established Motoko Ishii Lighting Design Inc. in Tokyo. Public recognition of her extraordinary talent was almost immediate-in 1969, she received a prize from the Illuminating Engineering Society of Japan for the Diffusion of Lighting project. Many domestic awards followed, such as the Illuminating Engineering Society of Japan's Japan Lighting Award and the Tokyo Metropolitan Prize of Culture from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Ishii has also received numerous international awards, including more than 30 awards from the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA).
Establishing a lighting design firm in itself is not so unusual an achievement. But Ishii started her business in a profession dominated by men during a time when Japanese culture believed that a woman's place was anywhere but on a construction site. Ishii has spoken of being treated as an assistant, rather than being respected as the company owner, on all too many job sites early in her career.
Ishii not only persevered, but promoted her accomplishments at a time when sophisticated marketing by a small business was not yet commonplace. Light Sensor, the full-color annual publication that details her company's lighting designs, debuted in 1979 at 12 pages. 'But in those days,' Ishii wrote in Light Sensor 2000, 'it was still unusual for a small private office to publish a collection (of work), so it was passed around and attracted attention. Since then, the number of pages has increased to 16 then 24 then 32 and the fact that the publication has been continuously produced in-house since its inception is impressive.'
Ishii has also authored three books detailing her designs: Design for Environmental Lighting, My World of Lights and Light to Infinity. Documenting and publishing her work early on allowed Ishii to grow her reputation well beyond the borders of Japan and it dovetailed with the establishment of her offices in other countries as the market for lighting design grew around the world.
Currently, Motoko Ishii Lighting Design Inc. maintains offices in Tokyo, Los Angeles and Paris. Light Creation Inc. is a division of Motoko Ishii Lighting Design with the mission of realizing, as its website states, 'a 'kinder' and better lighting environment by undertaking lighting engineering, the development, planning, production, installation and post-installation service of lighting hardware using the latest technology.' This testing and development arm is only one way in which Ishii pushes the envelope of lighting in a proactive way.
Ishii contributes to lighting education by presiding over the 'Inter Light Forum' in Japan established for the purpose of fostering the interdisciplinary study of light. She also sits on various government committees in Japan, including the Ministry of Construction's Architectural Council, the National Land Agency's Council and the Science Technology Agency's Council for Aeronautics & Electric Technologies.
Motoko Ishii has expressed a love for light with extraordinary grace and professionalism throughout her career. 'Light has existed since the beginning of the world. Then man was born and he, in turn, created civilization and culture by the grace of light. Light is beautiful. It is also entertaining. It affects all areas of our lives, from religion to technology to art.'
'I have taken the road of designing light,' she wrote in her book, Light to Infinity, published in 1991. 'In the 21st century, which is as close as tomorrow, I look forward to the development of ever more beautiful, ever richer light.'